The universal service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as “E-rate,” provides discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access. Controlled by the FCC, the E-rate program makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. The ongoing proliferation of innovative digital learning technologies and the need to connect students, teachers, and consumers to jobs, lifelong learning and information have led to a steady rise in demand for bandwidth in schools and libraries.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does E-Rate Cover?
In recent years, the FCC refocused E-rate from legacy telecommunications services to broadband, with a goal to significantly expand Wi-Fi access. These steps to modernize the program are helping E-rate keep pace with the need for increased Internet access.
School districts can typically expect discounts on Category One (C1) services such as primary internet access, internet connections between buildings and construction required to obtain internet access. Category Two (C2) services include equipment and services used inside the school buildings to get internet access to student devices. Some of these items typically include routers, switches, and wireless access points. E-rate does NOT cover end user devices, such as computers or tablets. Each summer an Eligible Services list is posted for comment and then adopted by the program determining all items eligible for funding in that year.
How can I apply?
Districts who wish to apply for E-rate must follow an application process that includes multiple forms. The majority of this process is handled electronically within the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). This dashboard provides access to the necessary forms and communications with Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), who manages the process for the FCC. Individual forms walk applicants through a process of determining needed services, accepting bids, entering into contracts with providers and activation or completion of services. Districts begin the process of application up to a year before services are confirmed and implemented. This lengthy process containing multiple forms and timelines requires districts to oversee the applications and implementation of services over multiple years.
How big of a discount can your district receive?
E-rate discount levels are determined by district poverty level, primarily identified by eligibility in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
What state support is available?
Many state departments of education provide staff, or State E-rate Coordinators to help districts navigate the process. Melinda Fiscus, Digital Access Coordinator for the Learning Technology Center, serves as one of the State E-rate Coordinators for IL and provides support to school districts navigating the program and multiple forms. The LTC provides instruction, reminders, application workshops and general program guidance through ISBE support. Melinda also participates in national organizations that support the E-rate program such as the State E-rate Coordinators Association (SECA) and State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) E-rate special interest group. Affiliation with these national organizations help insure Illinois Districts are kept up to speed with changes in the E-rate environment.
What is the Illinois E-Rate Matching Grant?
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released a notice of funding opportunity/request for proposals (NOFO/RFP) for pending state funds to expand internet connectivity in schools. The funds would reimburse school districts for the cost of upgrading their broadband infrastructure to fiber optic technology. Fiber optic technology delivers the most affordable and fastest network speeds to schools and allows districts to scale cost-effectively to meet growing bandwidth needs in the future.
Nearly 75 districts across the state have been identified as having one or more school building in their district without access to this scalable infrastructure. Priority of funding will be given to districts that can demonstrate one or more buildings in their district is in need of a fiber upgrade.
In order to apply interested districts must:
- Leverage E-rate funding and apply for special construction on their E-rate 470 and 471 applications.
- Create a detailed RFP and/or Project. Guidance and sample templates are available from EducationSuperHighway, an Illinois Classroom Connectivity Initiative partner.
- Compare bids and choose a winning provider, following E-rate timelines, rules and guidance from USAC.
- Complete the IL E-rate State Matching Grant Form on the ISBE Broadband Information webpage.
E-Rate Videos were produced by the Learning Technology Center in partnership with the Illinois Principal Association.